We are not built for this: Interdisciplinary Honors Program thesis delves into the modern mind

From abstract photography to painted portrait: A look inside McQuade’s process of depicting the human mind under the influence of technology

The world is changing faster than ever before. Are our brains able to keep pace?

That’s the question that New Paltz student Brianna McQuade ’22 (Psychology) of East Northport, New York, set out to answer for her Honors Program thesis, “Mismatch: Translating Concepts of Evolutionary Psychology Into an Aggregation of Various Aesthetic Mediums.”

Her presentation defines a state of “Technological Mismatch,” in which the convenience of tools that allow instant communication conceal the ways in which these same tools undermine and distract us from genuine human connection.

Working with faculty mentors in Psychology (Professor Glenn Geher) and Ceramics (Associate Professor Bryan Czibesz), McQuade extended her work in psychology and evolutionary studies with expressions in painting and sculpture, producing physical and visual representations of her findings about how our brains struggle to handle the rigors of modern life.

“I wanted to sculpt a brain as a way of representing an item that holds information,” she said. “To me, it was not so much about representing the brain itself, but about the brain representing a space to hold the items I sculpted.”

The ambitious, interdisciplinary project was typical of McQuade’s approach in the classroom and in the studio, according to her Art Department advisor, Czibesz.

“My observation of Bri as a person and as a student is that it really takes a particular kind of student not only to be academically gifted to be in the Honors Program, but to be working in different disciplines,” he said. “She really demonstrates the potential for interdisciplinary work.”

“When Brianna first came to me to discuss doing a cross-disciplinary thesis project that blended her excitement for the concept of evolutionary mismatch with her passion for visual arts, I was fully on-board,” Geher added. “I’ve overseen dozens of Honors Program projects over the past two decades and I have to say that Brianna’s work here truly is one-of-a-kind. She really represents the kind of motivated, innovative cross-disciplinary work that characterizes the very best of what academia has to offer.”

McQuade’s work is exemplary of the kinds of original activity common in the Honors Program, which is designed to support and empower highly motivated New Paltz students (membership is about 320) through special, discussion-driven seminars and unique cocurricular experiences that nurture independent thinking, creativity, respect and social responsibility.

More information about the Honors Program (including how new and current students can apply) is available here.